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J Café Down a Donna

Don't head over to Woodmere's J Café (28601 Chagrin Boulevard), looking for some of chef/owner Donna Chriszt's signature cuisine: She's not there. While it's common knowledge that Chriszt has been planning to move to a West Side location for some time now, sources say she hasn't yet settled on a new spot and wasn't ready to leave her East Side restaurant. Nonetheless, word is that her J Café partner and financial backer, Ed Dunlap, asked her for her resignation about two weeks ago. Business bigshot and restaurateur Dunlap, president and CEO of Pittsburgh's Centimark Corporation, the nation's largest roofing contractor, says, "The restaurant wasn't doing well with Donna," but claims the split was friendly. J Café GM Barrie Shulman adds that Donna was cut loose so she could "devote more time to her new ventures." However, Chriszt's supporters contend that this was the culmination of months of battling with Dunlap over the restaurant's direction. Meantime, the J Café kitchen is in the hands of Chriszt's longtime sous chef Todd Arnold, with guidance from Pittsburgh culinary luminary Bill Aschenbrenner, former chef to The Donald and current exec chef at another Dunlap restaurant, Le Mont. Shulman promises changes in the J Café menu soon, with less fusion and more comfort foods. "It doesn't matter how good your food is, if you can't fill the seats," he observes. Chriszt had no comment.

On ramps . . . Who knew smelly little wild onions would someday be the stuff of gourmets' dreams? That's ramps for you -- the little swamp-dwelling bulbs that look like tulip greens, but have an assertive yet sweet garlic-onion taste. We are presently in the midst of ramp season, which runs from April through early June, and the li'l fellers, grown locally at Snake Hill Farms in Bainbridge, have found their way onto menus in several area restaurants. At the Fulton Bar and Grill (1835 Fulton Road), for example, Chef Steve Parris is using a chiffonade of the chive-like greens as a garnish on mushroom turnovers and grilled scallops. And at Parker's (2801 Bridge Avenue), chef/owner Parker Bosley makes a creamy sauce for handmade fettuccine out of the more mellow bulb and serves a buttery caramelized version as a garnish for steak. Just remember to pick up the breath mints on the way home.

No-snow job . . . The catering staff at Brandywine Ski Resort (1146 West Highland Road, Sagamore Hills) will usher in warm-weather fun with their fourth annual Spring Wine Tasting, April 28, from 6 to 9 p.m. The event will feature 60 wineries, including producers from South Africa, Australia, Germany, France, and Italy, as well as domestic vintners from California, Washington, and Oregon. Past wine tastings at Brandywine have offered an excellent opportunity to fine-tune one's wine appreciation in a casually sophisticated setting, as well as a chance to snag a bottle -- or a case -- of some worthy find. And an ample spread of hot and cold appetizers, including sushi, Asian-wrapped shrimp, and mini-quiches by Chef Jeff Decker will help you keep your balance. Price is $40 per person in advance; tickets at the door, if available, will cost an additional 10 bucks. Proceeds go to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Call 330-467-2242, extension 6, for reservations.

Tips are encouraged. Contact Elaine T. Cicora at elaine.cicora@clevescene.com.

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